HUA HIN, Thailand – ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience‘ celebrates its first anniversary this month by welcoming to its ranks one of the country’s top new courses, Black Mountain Golf Club in the seaside resort hamlet of Hua Hin.
Just three years old, Black Mountain is already a bona fide “championship” layout, having played host to the Asian Tour’s Black Mountain Masters in 2009, a tournament won by Swedish European PGA Tour star Johan Edfors, who now calls Black Mountain home. Black Mountain is also chief sponsor of Thai star Thongchai Jaidee, the most accomplished Asian Tour player of all time now ranked #46 in the world (good enough to qualify him for this month’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach).
Designed by Australian architect Phil Ryan, Black Mountain GC was transformed from a property that was equal parts lush jungle and pineapple plantation. The 18-hole course occupies a broad valley, set against a series striking volcanic, jet-black mountains that provide a naturally dramatic backdrop to nearly every hole.
“Black Mountain is the first in our new class – the very first course we have invited to join the original members in Golf in a Kingdom in Year II,” says Mark Siegel, CEO of Bangkok-based tour operator Golfasian Co. Ltd. (www.golfasian.com), a member of Golf in a Kingdom. “We launched Golf in a Kingdom almost exactly one year ago and it’s been an eventful year to say the least. There continues to be enthusiasm for what we’re doing. You can expect several more new additions to our ranks – on the course and hotel fronts – in the coming months.”
Siegel also noted that after weeks of demonstrations and upheaval in downtown Bangkok, peace and stability have made welcome returns.
“The streets have been cleaned up, the demonstrators have returned home, offices, shops and hotels have re-opened, and the Skytrain and subway are back in operation,” Siegel reports. “It’s not anyone’s intention to downplay what happened at the main demonstration area in central Bangkok. However, in reality, 99.99% of Thailand remained peaceful throughout and tourists in Thailand were never at risk. Political differences remain, as they do in any country. But there is relief that things are back to normal and these issues are being handled politically.”
Few hospitality companies were more directly affected by the protests than Minor International, the Bangkok-based hospitality and retail giant that owns the Anantara brand of 5-star hotels, several of which are Golf in a Kingdom members. Minor temporarily closed down two properties including the Bangkok Four Seasons, as well as several shops in Central World, the giant Bangkok mall that was partially destroyed in fires set after a military crackdown on the protesters May 19.
William Heinecke, Minor’s chief executive, has indicated that the demonstrations provided a chance to regroup. “The protests closed two of our hotels, a small number of retail outlets and damaged two food outlets,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “The hotels used this time to carry out training, take care of renovations, enhancements and of course plan for the future. Such a crisis is a learning curve, but also a time to refocus and ensure that we move forward with solid plans for the future.”
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), another a member of Golf in a Kingdom, reported another pivot in the tourism sector. According to official TAT data, international arrivals at Suvarnabhumi International Airport fell by were down 20 percent compared to May 2009. However, the number of international passengers arriving at Phuket International Airport in May 2010 rose by 61.15 compared to May 2009.
More evidence that despite several coups in the past 30 years, the Kingdom of Thailand remains the destination of choice for Asian holiday-makers, especially golfers thanks to its stellar courses, superb year-round climate and welcoming, organically Thai culture. By banding together to form ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience’ (www.golfinakingdom.com), the country’s top courses and hotels created a cooperative itinerary that matches the most desirable “stay” options with its most desirable “play” options.
Black Mountain joins a cooperative that, in addition to Golfasian and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, includes the best of Thai golf:
- Banyan Golf Club, also in Hua Hin, voted top new course in Asia by readers of Asian Golf Monthly in 2009
- Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort, recently voted the top course in Southeast Asia by SEA Globe magazine.
- Muang Kaew Golf Club, a lush urban retreat in the heart of Bangkok.
- The Old Course at Siam Country Club in Pattaya, host of the 2010 Honda PTT LPGA
- Siam Country Club’s Plantation Course, host of the same LPGA event in 2009
- Thai Country Club in Bangkok, voted ‘Best Championship Course in Asia’, as voted by Asian Golf Monthly readers in 2008.